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Brian Shannan, Deputy Head Teacher and Educational Audiologist, Fife Council
Brian Shannan is a Deputy Head of Teacher/Educational Audiologist for Fife Council. Below Brian explains more about his fascinating job and the important role Educational Audiologist’s have in supporting deaf and hard of hearing children and their families
What’s involved in your role
My role involves working with and empowering others including families of children who are deaf, school staff, health professionals and a range of other agencies. My role is varied covering deaf children from birth to school leaving age.
Newborn Hearing Screening means that increasingly we are able to identify children with permanent deafness within a few weeks of birth. I not only work with my audiology colleague at the Victoria Hospital in sharing the news with families but supporting the families from that point forward. Identifying babies requires the support being sensitive to the bonding process between parent and child. The attachment between a parent and their baby helps facilitate not only communication but also the emotional wellbeing of the baby. This can be disrupted by the diagnosis of deafness. The process by which parents adjust to the reality of their child’s deafness is influenced by how deafness is presented from the very start. The adjustment process is influenced by the view of deafness underlying it. Therefore, one of my central roles is to ensure that deafness is not presented as only a medical, scientific or deficit issue and that they are positive in their approach to deafness.
Support helps families to secure better outcomes themselves by providing them with knowledge and skills. The parents are the experts as they know the child better than any professional and as they grow in awareness about the issues of deafness they can become empowered to make informed choices. We encourage families to choose, re-choose and change their minds. In Fife, the audiologist and I support families from the point of diagnosis in the home and hospital and so attempt to provide a seamless service during the crucial early years.
My role also involves ensuring that school-aged deaf children in Fife not only have the most appropriate equipment to help them hear but also develop the skills to make them effective listeners in the classroom. Hearing is mainly a passive function that provides access to the auditory world, listening requires intention and attention, and therefore demands expenditure of effort. Reducing the level of effort involved in listening means working with teachers of the deaf, school staff and the learner to ensure that they have the range of skills to be independent listeners. Listening is not only a challenge for the deaf but many learners can experience difficulties listening in the classroom. It is for this reason that I not only offer advice to schools on the most effective and inclusive audio equipment but that I also have been involved in listening/thinking skills programmes for all learners.
My role also involves working with national bodies and providing training at a national and local level. I was recently involved in a multi-agency group that developed Early Year Standards for Deaf Children and their Families.
I also teach audiology on the Postgraduate Diploma Additional Support Needs: Deaf at the University of Edinburgh and also act as a placement tutor on the course.
What’s involved in a typical day in your job (if such a thing exists)?
As you can imagine there really isn’t a typical day. During my week I run two joint clinics at the Victoria Hospital where we see new referrals, early year’s children and those learners and families requiring input from education and audiology. Most days I link with the manager of the Sensory Support Service where we try and share information and address any issues that may arise. During the week I will visit families of children identified through the newborn hearing screening programme, link with teachers of the deaf, address any audiology equipment issues, attend review meetings and provide sign classes to parents and schools. The variety of the job and the fact that there is not a typical day is what makes the job interesting.
In what ways does your work make a direct difference to the lives of young people, and their families?
I firmly believe that my job is to empower others. The vast majority of families that have a deaf child have no previous knowledge or experience of deafness. Therefore, with young families my role is to develop the confidence and independence of families as it allows them to remain in control, make choices appropriate to their values and circumstances as well as better manage their child’s support needs. Seeing the families confidence grow from the point when the news is shared is a testament to a family-friendly services approach.
One of the biggest ways to make a difference to deaf learners is through providing support in a way that develops robust literacy skills. In my previous role as a teacher of the deaf through to my present role I have been involved in developing a literacy programme for deaf learners using BSL. The approach not only addresses issues of decoding but also language development. Seeing deaf learners with age appropriate reading skills, attending their local school and where they are an equal member of their local community is something that has both tangible and unquantifiable benefits.
What led you to your current role?
I was a teacher of the deaf having worked in a schools for the deaf, Resourced Based Provision and mainstream setting. When Newborn Hearing Screening started I studied for a diploma in early years at the University of Manchester. The modules covering early language development, supporting families and early audiology changed my outlook on support for deaf learners of any age. It influenced the support model for BSL users that I implemented in Fife and also changed my opinion about how families should be supported from birth.
After this training I was involved with the Early Support Team in Fife and when my predecessor retired I applied to train as an educational audiologist as it gave me the opportunity to put these ideas into practice.
What is the most rewarding part of the job?
The most rewarding aspect is seeing differences that the right type of support and intervention can make. Sometimes families attend the clinics at the hospital and they have had some issues relating to their listening in class. Through appropriate intervention that can include fitting a hearing aid, an FM system or by offering advice to schools then better outcomes can be achieved. In a recent clinic a family attended where their child was having significant challenges with literacy and by working with the school, the family, targeted support by a teacher of the deaf and by utilising our literacy decoding approach the learner is now reading and coming home keen to read. This child was not deaf but has difficulties processing sound and it is ensuring that better outcomes are achieved, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or label of deafness that is important. As with the work with families in the early years it is seeing the confidence of the family grow as they have developed skills that allow them to achieve the best outcome for their child. Skilling parents and schools to achieve the best outcome is the best aspect of the job.
What do you think are the main challenges of the job?
The main challenge is the perception that families and professionals can have regarding the role that I have and the service that I work for. There is a common language, and assumption that the number of hours of support is somehow relates to better outcomes. I am of the belief that how services are delivered is as important as what is delivered.
Deaf learners require the same opportunity to access the curriculum and develop their language skills through active and experiential learning. There is a symbiotic relationship between language and cognition and so providing the opportunity for deaf learners to take risks with their learning in an environment that is not adult led is something that can be hard to achieve when there is a feeling that the number of hours of support that is paramount.
Furthermore, sometimes schools and others think that working with the deaf learner out of class is always the best way to achieve the best outcomes. The poor level of attainment amongst deaf learners means that we all need to look at the previous models of support and think of ways that can improve outcomes.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your job?
As an undergraduate the first book I read was by Socrates and in it he said that his wisdom came from the fact that he knew that he knew nothing. An expert could be regarded as someone who has stopped learning and whether it be at the hospital clinics where I ask for feedback about how I can do things better, reflecting on my involvement from the last family that I visited or reading about my subject area just to confirm the complexity of the subject area then this would hold true.
Within education and health there can be a range of opinions about how things are done and so you are not always going to please everyone. The best way is to build a consensus of the willing and by demonstrating better outcomes hopefully bring everyone on board. Always be open and honest and realise that at times you need to use a different number of routes to get to the destination that you want.